In the News: Conservatism a Category of “Diversity” at Iowa Law School?

This just in: Now being a “conservative” is a legally actionable category.  A story in yesterday’s New York Times tells the tale of conservative activist Teresa R. Wagner.  Wagner had applied for a job at the University of Iowa College of Law in 2006.  She was not hired, and recently she won the right to sue from the Eighth Circuit US Court of Appeals in St. Louis.  She hasn’t won anything yet, but the circuit court ruled that she had shown enough evidence that the decision not to hire Wagner was due to unconstitutional discrimination against Wagner’s political beliefs.

Apparently, the smoking gun here was a statement in 2007 by the school’s Associate Dean Jonathan C. Carlson.  Carlson said Wagner ought not be hired since most people at the school “despise her politics (and especially her activism about it).”

Wagner doesn’t dispute her fierce partisan politics. She has worked for the National Right to Life Commitee and the Family Research Council.

One thing that makes this looming lawsuit so interesting to all those interested in the culture wars is that the notion of conservatives as a special kind of persecuted minority has become such a large piece of the jigsaw puzzle of cultural conservatism.  As we have noted on other posts, creationists have complained about this prejudice for years.  Jerry Bergman, for instance, insisted that he was refused tenure at Bowling Green State University due to his religious beliefs.  Clifford Burdick was refused his doctoral degree at the University of Arizona.  He and his supporters have argued that he was only denied due to his religious beliefs.

Of course, these are very different cases.  Some mainstream scientists will find it perfectly appropriate to refuse tenure or a doctorate in science to someone who dissents from one of the basic premises of mainstream science.  At a law school, however, faculty can agree on basic principles, while holding different political ideologies.  In other words, it is not as if Teresa Wagner disputes the existence of the Constitution.

In any case, students of the culture wars will be watching the progression of this case carefully.  Even if the legal issues in play don’t technically mean much for other sorts of conservatives, a legal decision that conservatism should be considered a category of ‘cultural diversity’ will doubtlessly be used as a weapon in upcoming culture-war skirmishes.